how to use naivete to drive innovation

We can’t fear the naive questions if we want to innovate.

When we were young, we knew very little, so we spent a lot of time in observation.

When we were old enough to start, we started emulating the adults around us. We mimicked their facial expressions, and then we started on their sounds. Good parents would help us out, looking at us, making faces, smiling, talking to us, we soaked it all up like a sponge and then played it back. Eventually, we were old enough to ask questions to gain knowledge on the things we didn’t directly experience with our own senses.

Most of these questions started with why, and they were answered because we were cute little kids who just craved knowledge. Our parents, relatives, and teachers were probably charmed by our naive questions. We knew very little and wanted to expand our understanding of the world. However, as we grew older, experienced life and amassed knowledge, we started to stop asking questions, especially naive ones.

Within our social groups, we didn’t want to look or sound stupid – of course; I knew that. You’ve probably done this yourself – you are talking to someone in a peer group, and they mention something or someone, and you nod or agree as you know about the topic, to seem like you fit in with the group. This urge to conform always occurs in groups of a certain size and larger – our personal decisions, thoughts, and opinions are overwritten by the group.

Humans beings are almost hardwired to go along with the group over their own individual desires. Asking naive questions within a group is forbidden – not only do you want to look dumb, but you are also concerned that you will be drummed out of the group. This might have been a big problem when we were prehistoric humans roaming the savannah, where being kicked out of the group most certainly meant death, nowadays the penalty is much less severe.

In fact, not asking the naive questions in the group will not only keep you in the group, but it will also not allow you to probe into the reasons why you should change. Being naive, childlike again, will let you look at the problem with new eyes. If you knowingly suppress all of the knowledge your team has built over time, and revisit with new naive eyes again, who knows what innovations you can unlock.

The main issue is fear – we are worried about what the group will think of us. To start things off, be the one to ask the dumb questions – to take things back to a time before “we always do things this way,” and see if there are alternatives which appear. Come at it with beginners mind – if you had to do it all over again, and knew absolutely nothing, how would you do it?

Practice naivete, being it into your ideation sessions, and you will see an increase in interesting new solutions to your challenges.

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